The importance of non-verbal communication and the use of all five senses in Equine Assisted Therapy

On analyzing Equine Assisted Therapy, it is necessary to underline that, unlike numerous talking therapies, this therapy is mainly oriented on the non-verbal communication and treatment. In fat, when horses are used in treatment the use of verbal language turns to be of little effectiveness. The reason is that horses communicate 99% of their feelings and actions by means of their body language (Kersten 1998:329). Naturally, they are very sensitive to human’s body language as well. This is why patients have to take into consideration their actions, their every move when they are near horses. At the same time, the dominance of non-verbal communication helps patients reveal their real self and begin to break down barriers and communication blocks. The latter are typical for addicts since often they are in a sort of isolation from the rest of the world and find certain reconciliation with themselves only in their addiction. This is why, by means of non-verbal communication, Equine Assisted Therapy can help patients become more conscious of themselves and more sociable.

In actuality, working with and caring for horses involve and stimulate practically all five senses of humans since every movement and action of a patient is interpreted in a way by a horse and, in response, every movement, action or sound of a horse is meaningful. Moreover, the contact between a patient and an animal is established mainly on the basis of non-verbal communication with the help of the body language. Naturally, every sound or movement, even the slightest touch can change the behavior of a horse. In this respect, it is worth of mention that some patients have certain difficulties in Equine Assisted Therapy because they believe that horses simply do not like them and, what is more, the animals really do.

However, it is really important to the patients to understand that if they change their own behavior horses will immediately change their attitude to them. In such a way, people with addictions learn how responsive their surrounding could be to their own actions and horses serves rather as models, or metaphors for human life, attitudes and behaviors. For instance, patients may be asked to make a horse go over the jump set up in the arena, which sounds simple until the rules are stated: No touching the horse whatsoever; cannot use a lead rope or halter; cannot bribe the horse with food real or imagined. As the activity starts, patients learn how difficult it can be to complete the task. Issues such as anger management, frustration, control and others appear and create the basis for the discussion afterwards, in which patients often associate themselves with the horses being forced to overcome different barriers and obstacles in their life, the most difficult of which is probably their addiction (Riede 1988).

In general, Equine Assisted Therapy, which implies working with and caring for horses, takes time and physical, emotional and mental efforts. In this therapy, talk is replaced by tasks involving touch, movement and other elements that are not the part of the usual therapeutic environment, enabling dysfunctional behaviors or patterns to emerge during the therapy session. For their own safety patients have to be aware of their bodies and where they are in relation to their horses. The lack of self-nurturing and healthy boundaries is often evident patients with addictions and their responses to the horses are often similar to their responses to their home and work environments. By means of non-verbal communication, influencing all five senses, horses inform patients about their level of connection by ignoring or walking away from them, being distracted by other horses or movements on the yard or eating. The moment when the horse response to the patient is an excellent opportunity to practice congruence with feelings and behaviors. In such a way, patients learn to change their behavior in order to make their environment change the attitude to them.

The fact that Equine Assisted Therapy is done outdoors is very important for it has a profound impact on effectiveness of the therapy stimulating patients’ emotions, senses and immersing them in the useful experience.

Moreover, clinical issues usually emerge when patients experience unusual sensations of the equestrian site and the setting is particularly useful for those who have experienced multiple interventions and are blocked (McCormick 1997).

Consequently, Equine Assisted Therapy naturally implies the use of non-verbal communication and affects all five senses of humans which actually serve as tools of their communication of horses. Obviously, the use of this therapy is quite effective and provides a number of benefits to patients and increase the effectiveness of their treatment.

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